Old boss, same as the new boss

April 6, 2017

Stew Jenkins


Editor’s note: A column by Democrat Stew Jenkins will run in CalCoastNews every other week, rotating with a column by Republican Mike Brown.

On March 28, at 9 a.m., the San Luis Obispo City Council met in a small hotel conference room for a “workshop” with selected management staff to discuss outreach, respective roles of counsel and staff, and compensation. As a special meeting, only minimal notice was required.

The mayor didn’t preside, but a hired “facilitator” conducted the “workshop” like a traveling tent revival preacher. Council members were plied with food, drink, compliments and inspiration. Council members were urged to find peace in their own limited roles, while the “best and the brightest” staff administers the council members’ city for them.

Chairs set out for an audience in this out-of-the-way hotel room conducted pretense for a public meeting stood vacant.

What key items were discussed in that hotel room in late March? The clue is above in the first two paragraphs.  There is no mystery here for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

On April 4, at 4 p.m. – not at 6 p.m. when most council meetings start – bonuses of $2,000 for management staff was recommended and voted on.

At 6 p.m., at the regular time when the council usually meets, a now full council chamber hosted a well presented appeal against development of a 33-unit apartment complex on the forested property of the historic 1895 Sandford mansion property at 71 Palomar. So many residents of San Luis Obispo spoke against the clear cutting of this urban forest property that the hearing continued until 10 pm.

Projections demonstrated the complex would house over 140 renters. Yet, under 65 parking spaces had been required on site, in an area where streets are already clogged with parked cars. Councilwoman Andy Pease had properly recused herself, due to prior business relationships.

No environmental review of the effects on nesting raptors and other birds, wildlife, or flora on the property had been required. It did not matter how much evidence was produced by the appellants’ lawyer and by the public demonstrating flaws in the arborist, historic, traffic and parking information provided to the Cultural Heritage Committee, the Tree Committee, and the Architectural Review Commission.

After all presentations and public comment, Councilwoman Carlyn Christiansen took over the meeting. Predictably shilling for the development community, Christiansen led the staff through an orchestrated minimization and dismissal of the facts presented by the public and the appellants. Cutting down the mature forest was of no importance to her, because “we’ve planted a lot of trees,” she said.

But councilmen Aaron Gomez and Dan Riviore stepped right into this party line. The triumvirate all spoke about the need for housing and support for higher density, and the wonderful job that professional staff had done.

Staff must be outstanding. After all, they’d discussed given them bonuses at their early morning “public” workshop a week before in a hotel, and in their 4 p.m. meeting just hours before the appeal was heard.

The developers of the Sandford mansion property urged support for the project to provide affordable housing.  Contractors hoping for work on the project urged approval to create affordable housing.

The “best and the brightest” never fed the city council the most important question for balancing the interests of the environment, the neighborhoods, and people aced out of the housing market in San Luis Obispo by high prices. And none of the council members asked this prime question.

In a city where the median income for a white male adult is about $56,000 a year, and a white female adult earns about half that, how affordable would these new apartments actually be?

Sandford mansion

According to rents charged in similar nearby units, our city can expect each unit to rent for approximately $4,400 per month ($1,100 per bed).  That’s a gross rent of $52,000 a year. In other words, the mature urban forest and peace of adjacent neighborhoods were sacrificed for high end expensive housing.

What about our new mayor? Ms. Heidi Harmon did speak against the project. At the end. But this was well after the rest of the council had towed the staff’s development line. Sadly, her questions and comments did not demonstrate liberal leadership or an ability to persuade her council colleagues to listen to the public’s overwhelming opposition.

So, here we are. Again. The peace and environment of our city dependents on whether appellants decide to sue our city over denial of their well prepared and well documented project appeal. An attorney speaking for a local biodiversity foundation may also decide to sue our city.

San Luis Obispo’s ossified structure of city government reminds me of the end to the song by “The Who,” Won’t Get Fooled Again.

I’ll tip my hat to the new (city council), Take a bow for the new revolution,
Smile and grin at the change all around, Pick up my guitar and play,
Just like yesterday, Then I’ll get on my knees and pray, We don’t get fooled again, Don’t get fooled again, no no, Yeaaah! Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss.

We elected a new mayor and two new council members; new bosses to enhance our quality of life. But we ended up with the same old boss, the same unelected professional institutional high end development oriented staff.

Residents of San Luis Obispo will never control their own city’s quality of life until the city manager, city attorney, and key department heads are subject to democratic election by the people who they serve: the voters of San Luis Obispo.

Stew Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo County liberal Democrat who supports the rights of working people to organize unions, growing the local economy through project labor agreements, the right of all people to health care and equal dignity.

He is an attorney practicing in San Luis Obispo since 1978. Jenkins’ handles tax payer suits, municipal law, estate planning and family law.

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Right on, Stew!

How sad for San Luis Obispo. Thank you for writing this excellent article Mr. Jenkins. You’ve called out our Mayor and Council members accurately. It’s time for them to represent the residents of the City, the environment and quality of life that made this a special place.

gee if only there was an employer in the area that paid salaries high enough to afford those rents. a company with, say, a 1000 high skilled, well paid employees…..

The swamp is rising. Affordable housing? What a joke of a sales pitch for politicians who have no idea about housing costs. Plain and simple there is one very significant reason why housing is not more affordable, it’s government. Like everything thing else that they want, they easily take but do they ever give? Have you ever heard of reduce fees or expediting the system? Of course not how else would you be able to keep the best, pay excessive salaries and benefits and then after spending $70,000 to investigate their misdeeds reward themselves with a $2000 bonus. This is why they do not want to financially get involved in providing affordable housing. It’s all about them and nobody else.

Stew, you’ve said it so eloquently. Thank you. Our city is in as bad shape as Washington DC, and other than a few voices like yours, few make an effort to explain how bad things are.